Schubert Winterreise

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Schubert Winterreise

  • Winterreise

This issue completes, and does so rewardingly, Schreier's recordings of the three great Schubert cycles. A pity Decca have kept it to themselves for so long (it was recorded almost three years ago), or it could have been included in RW's magnificent ''Gramophone collection'' survey last month. He would surely have rated it as high if not higher than Schreier's earlier, live reading with Richter, which spreads over two discs. In discussing that, RW referred to the wanderer as being ''pathologically unbalanced''. Schreier himself, in his note in the Decca booklet, comments that the protagonist's ''suffering has an almost pathological quality''. He also tells us that he long held off from singing the work because it calls for years of experience and because four of the songs seemed to lie too low for his tenor. When he discovered that Schubert originally wrote them in a higher key, only lowering them for Vogl, that problem went away. And when he came to study the cycle he was working with Richter, hence their performances together; now he is delighted to have re-recorded it in company with Schiff.
As RW and others suggest, the fascination of the earlier interpretation was the tensions set up between two almost opposing views of the work. Here two minds are in absolute harmony, indeed think as closely as Pears and Britten in their 1960s recording. In their united view, they avoid the extremes of tempo (except in ''Die Krahe'', which fairly whizzes by) that were a slightly questionable feature of the Philips reading.
Schreier refers to the unique density and spiritual concentration of the songs; that, and their hallucinatory nature, inform this riveting performance from start to finish, nowhere more so than in ''Wasserflut'' and ''Einsamkeit''. The latter is a paradigm of the whole searing, almost unbearable experience. If you can tolerate it you will be engaged and surely moved by the whole. In this song, Schreier leans into the words and notes of ''Ach, das die Luft so ruhig!'' suggesting the cry of a desperate, tormented soul-as does the emphatic enunciation of the single word ''Bergstroms'' earlier, in ''Irricht''. Also arresting is the curiously daring way Schreier asks the question at the end of ''Die Post'', as if it were a spontaneous afterthought.
These make the moments of calm and repose all the more eerie. The sad delicacy of Schiff's playing at the start of ''Fruhlingstraum'' sets the scene of the imagined May to perfection, and the flowing lift of his left hand in ''Tauschung'' is as deceptively friendly as the light described by the singer. ''Das Wirtshaus'' is all false resignation: voice and piano tell us of the man's tired emptiness. Anger and defiance, as in the earlier performance, are registered in raw, chilling tone and phraseology. Then, in the pair's revelatory way, they draw attention anew to the originality of concept of ''Letzte Hoffnung''. The final songs taken simply, speak beautifully of acceptance.
I need hardly say that, among tenor versions, this is now my preferred choice, benefiting from the warm yet clear acoustic of the recording. Viewing the whole scene, it matches Fassbaender in its unbridled involvement. Fischer-Dieskau (1971) is still there as another kind of benchmark for those who prefer a lower, more amenable voice in this cycle.'

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